Back in the Neolithic Era, the year my in-laws were coming for Thanksgiving dinner, I was so nervous that when the doorbell rang, I dropped a raw egg on the kitchen floor. Today we have alternatives to all that toil and terror. In a world of two-income couples, single parents, smaller families, and migrations far from our hometowns, fewer people have the time or motivation to cook a traditional multicourse extravaganza. Little wonder that, more and more, we celebrate Thanksgiving with “dinner out” at restaurants (if anybody drops an egg, it won’t be in your kitchen!) or with restaurant takeout served at home.
The list below begins with takeout options for tackling the turkey. (“When we started doing our takeout feasts,” said Elon Akin of D.Z. Akin’s, “people were so fervently grateful we decided to do it every year.”) Next comes a longer list centering on restaurants known for good food, and/or places that sound like special fun. If you’re looking for dark meat as well as breast, most buffets carve whole birds. Wherever possible, we’ve included this detail for sit-down dinners as well.
Nearly every restaurant open for T-Day is also likely to serve meals on Christmas Eve or Day, New Year’s, Easter, Mom’s Day, Dad’s Day, Arbor Day, Songkran, Divali, Eid al-Fitr, and Yom Kippur. (When the fasts are finished, folks feel famished!) So clip and save this article if you’re looking ahead to eat out on future holidays.
Reserve your T-Day choice today if not yesterday. Some restaurants may be fully booked already. Many require a credit card number, which may be charged if you’re a no-show.
The restaurants listed below are arranged by geographical area, so you need not drive vast distances while drowsy. At the very end, you’ll find groups of restaurants that I can’t vouch for personally; these appeal to specific needs and tastes. Most large hotels, resorts, and gambling casinos also offer Thanksgiving dinners, and many casual-dining chains serve holiday dinners of their customary quality.
Prices quoted below do not include tip, tax, or beverages. “Kiddie prices” generally apply to ages 5–12 (sometimes 3–11). Rug rats usually eat free.
Authentic Flavors/St. Tropez Bistro, 7004 Carroll Road, Miramar, 858-404-0606. Free-range turkey dinner, $200 to serve 8–10, $300 for 12–15. Turkey only, $75–$125. Trimmings only, no turkey, $200 to serve up to 15. Preorder up to November 21, pick up in Miramar, or get delivery for $50 more.
Barnes BBQ, 7820 Broadway (at Lemon Grove Avenue), Lemon Grove, 619-462-9206. BYO Bird: Tote a fully thawed raw turkey to the BBQ, and they’ll smoke-cook it for you for $1.25 per pound. (They do this for Christmas, too.) Call by November 22 to reserve your smoking time. You can pick it up on Wednesday, along with yummy Southern sides of cornbread, pies, veggies, etc.
D.Z. Akin’s, 6930 Alvarado Road, off 70th Street/Lake Murray Blvd., San Diego, 619-265-0218. Turkey, trimmings, sides, rolls, pastries, all made from scratch. Pick up any day through Wednesday, and even through the following week. Full feast for ten for $99 ($5 extra for pecan pie, versus pumpkin); everything also available à la carte. Call one day ahead to order.
El Bizcocho, “Turkey a Go-Go” (see info for Rancho Bernardo Inn). Three-course dinner of appetizer, turkey, trimmings, and dessert, $130 to serve 4–6. Order by November 23, pick up on the 25th.
Mardi Gras Café and Marketplace, 3185 Midway Drive, Loma Portal, 619-223-5501. Cajun-style marinated deep-fried turkey, $5 per pound ($4 per pound if you BYO thawed bird), pick up on Wednesday or early Thursday. Order up to two days before. They can also furnish tasty Louisiana-style side dishes.
Pamplemousse (see North Coast listings). Gourmet takeout dinners available to pick up on T-Day at $50 per person for a full meal, minimum six orders ($300), including whole free-range roast turkey. Call by November 22, pick up on T-Day.
Savory (see North Coast). Take-home dinner with 16- to 18-pound turkey serving 15–18 people for $190, including a rosemary roast turkey with all the trimmings (artichoke and andouille stuffing!) and dessert. Whole turkey and gravy alone is $65; all trimmings (including gravy), side dishes, and desserts available à la carte. Full dinner for one, $18 (or entrée only, $14). Order by Sunday night, pick up on T-Day.
Whole Foods Market, locations in Hillcrest (619-294-2800) and La Jolla (858-642-6700). Offers Thanksgiving meals of Diestel natural roast turkey, stuffing, mash, gravy, and cranberry sauce (other sides extra, available in store) for six or more, from $100–$120, or trimmings only cost $40 to serve six. (Free tasting in Hillcrest, November 13, noon–3:00 p.m.) Whole meals for one person (turkey or vegan) also available in stores, along with partially cooked roasted and smoked turkeys. Raw turkeys $2.69–$6.99 (for heritage turkeys) per pound. Order by phone or online at wholefoodsmarket.com/shop starting November 1. Pick up on Wednesday, November 24, or until 4:00 p.m. on T-Day.
Arterra, San Diego Marriott Del Mar, 11966 El Camino Real, Carmel Valley, 858-369-6032 (under new management). Three-course prix-fixe dinner featuring chicken breast or rib-eye steak (no turkey), $60, kids’ menu $10, plus regular à la carte menu, 1:00–8:00 p.m.
Dining Room at the Inn, The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe, 858-756-1131. Huge brunch buffet in beautiful setting, $60, kids $24, under 5 free, 11:00 a.m.–3:00 p.m.
Grand Del Mar, 5200 Grand Del Mar Way, Carmel Valley, 858-314-2000. Addison: four courses, $98, seven courses $145, $220 with matched wines, no kiddie price, 3:00–8:00 p.m. Amaya: three-course meal noon–8:00 p.m., $65, $90 with matched wines, $25 kids.
Kitchen 1540 at L’Auberge Del Mar, 1540 Camino Del Mar, Del Mar, 858-793-6460. Chef Paul McCabe’s three-course prix-fixe dinner, several selections including dark and light meat turkey, $54; $32 kids, noon–8:00 p.m.
Mille Fleurs, 6009 Paseo Delicias, Rancho Santa Fe, 858-756-3085. Chef Martin Woesle’s à la carte dinner includes a turkey entrée. 1:00–7:00 p.m.
Pacifica Del Mar, Del Mar Plaza, 1555 Camino Del Mar (at 15th Street), Del Mar, 858-792-0476. Chef Chris Idso’s three-course dinner, with numerous choices, $38 for organic free-range turkey menu, $49 with other choices, 1:00–9:00 p.m.